Anatomy of a hit: we talk to two of the stars of the long running Grey’s Anatomy
Ten years ago, medical drama Grey’s Anatomy was at its absolute peak.
The complicated professional and personal lives of Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) and Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) were not only a phenomenon, but something of a salve for Friends fans mourning the recent departure of their much loved sitcom.
A staggering 38.1million Americans tuned in to one episode in 2006 – not just to see how the interns would deal with a bomb inside a patient, but to enjoy a show that was creative, funny at times, innovative with its use of music and always aimed for the heart.
These days, naturally, Grey’s Anatomy’s place at the centre of the cultural zeitgeist has shifted, replaced by the likes of The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Girls – but as season 13 debuts on OSN First HD tomorrow, just a day after the US broadcast, two of its cast reckon it has never been better.
“By rights, a show this age should be winding down,” says Scottish actor Kevin McKidd, who has played Dr Owen Hunt since season five in 2008. “But it genuinely feels like we’re just gearing up.
“The quality of the writing remains high – there’s been no dip in the storylines. And what we’re finding is that the teenage daughters of mothers who got into Grey’s Anatomy all those years ago are now ‘binge-watching’ the show so they can catch up in time for the new season. We’re getting a whole new generation plugged into Grey’s Anatomy – which is very rare for something so many seasons old.”
McKidd is perfectly placed to understand why the show continues to enthral, as he now directs some of the episodes. Not that he feels he has to tailor them specially to any potential new audiences – quite the opposite.
“You want to surprise them rather than just feed them what you think they want, because that’ll just make them bored,” he says. “It’s about keeping the show interesting.”
Martin Henderson – who is starting his second season on the show as Dr Nathan Riggs – adds that this commitment to improvisation and innovation comes from the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, who is also behind TV hits Private Practice, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.
Season 12 ended with Meredith and Riggs going slightly further than a professional relationship – but just to stir the pot, it is Meredith’s half-sister, Maggie, who really wants to get together with the new surgeon.
All of this led to suggestions that Henderson was a replacement for Dempsey – who left the show at the end of season 11 – in the affections of both the fans and Meredith.
“I knew that the introduction of my character might seem like they were bringing in a new partner for Meredith, but to Shonda’s great credit, when I asked about it she said she wouldn’t insult anyone by making it obvious,” says Henderson. “Which is great – what Patrick Dempsey built up over 11 seasons with McDreamy is really sacred to the audience, so the idea of immediately replacing that is arrogant and insulting to them.
“Look, they’ve lived with Meredith’s emotions for more than a decade, so to assume I’ll just end up with Meredith makes me uneasy. If there’s more dramatic value in making their relationship complicated, Shonda will do that.
“You can’t predict this show, which is what makes it so good.”
Last year’s arrival of accomplished stage and screen actor Henderson, who is from New Zealand, was something of a signal of intent for a show with only a smattering of its original cast remaining.
He says he was slightly worried on his first day on set – Grey’s Anatomy has, after all, had its fair share of off-screen drama, and conflict. But the positive atmosphere he found pleasantly surprised him – perhaps because there is now a committed cast whose characters have been through countless fascinating storylines. McKidd’s Owen Hunt is a case in point.
“Let’s see,” says McKidd, chuckling. “Owen started out as a messed-up trauma surgeon who had PTSD and he went through a marriage, being chief of the entire hospital for four seasons … back to the army, now he’s married to a completely different person. So it’s been a bit of a roller coaster – but that’s the whole point of TV drama. Seeing people really happy for any length of time on TV is the most boring thing.”
“People lose their babies, their lovers, their own lives … this show doesn’t pull any punches, but I also love how it can be funny at times,” says Henderson. “But that’s life and that’s why drama works. And Shonda’s skill is to let relationships develop organically on screen, and let things twist and turn.”
So does he think he’ll still be playing Riggs a decade from now?
“It will continue to work, with or without me,” he says. “Shonda is as committed as she was 10 years ago.”
• Season 13 of Grey’s Anatomy begins tomorrow night on OSN First HD
Updated: September 21, 2016 04:00 AM